For the last couple of County Commission meetings a large portrait of Charlie Ericksen, with that impish-eyed smile of his, has sat where he used to sit, at the far end of the dais. Charlie was always everywhere, but always just beyond the limelight’s fringe.
He never chaired the commission in his eight years. His colleagues, reverential at his “Celebration of Life” last Tuesday, were not so reverential when they carefully steered the chairmanship just past his reach, as if not trusting him to be pliant enough to their designs: his fellow-commissioners had always had that sort of patronizing attitude toward him, as if trusting the old uncle at the party but only so much.
He didn’t mind (not that much, anyway), knowing his limits, knowing his reach didn’t depend on whether people called him chairman or not: he wasn’t into power trips, traps or tripe. At least not that he let on. And there he was again on Tuesday, in portrait form and in memory as three dozen people who knew him, had worked with him, had been on his biking paths and been among the innumerable people he liked to converse with, spoke of him probably for the last time in the chamber he’d almost made his second home over the years.
There were touching remembrances and a bit of humor: Sheriff Rick Staly was supposed to have been at a Florida Sheriff’s Association meeti8ng, but Ericksen, he said, “delivered Hurricane Idalia to us,” just in time to ensure that those plans be postponed so the sheriff could attend the celebration.
The sheriff had made Ericksen an honorary deputy, and recognized his supporting role with Drug Court, where Ericksen attended every graduation and was a keynote speaker in 2014–a week to the day after he’d completed his famous 25,000-mile bike trek around Flagler County, started in 2008, a trek that has since gained legendary status: a bicycle was imprinted on the urn carrying his ashes at his internment at Cape Canaveral National Cemetery two weeks ago. Naturally, he spoke to the Drug Court graduates of “tenacity.”
County Commissioner Andy Dance never worked with Ericksen on the commission, but had known him over the years, going back to Dance’s service on the school board. It was Ericksen’s tenacity that had inspired Dance, he said, to pick up his own bike and start riding around town and county, striking up conversations with constituents, learning the environment more intimately than he could in a car. “Riding the bike slows you down,” he said.
The Celebration of Life was organized by Holly Albanese, the county’s library director and director of special projects, with Ed Fuller, a local champion of consensus politics. It was a chance for the local community to touch the urn, so to speak, of the man who’d devoted his final decade and a half to the county.
It was emotionally emceed by Greg Hansen, the current chairman of the commission, who started the ceremony by declaring it at once a very sad day, and a very happy day, since Ericksen had brought a certain joy and ease to the commission (at least before it was corrupted for a few years by a more poisonous presence that had made life hell for Ericksen and Hansen, and that was blessedly absent last Tuesday).
“Charlie and I tried to make fun of some people, tolerate some people,” Hansen said with a laugh, later amending that a bit to make sure his audience wasn’t misunderstanding: they’d done serious work, too, he said, summarizing Ericksen’s eclectic service on such committees as the schools’ planning oversight group, the county canvassing board (where a previous elections supervisor made life hell for him), the Carver Center, Teens-in-Flight, and as a volunteer with the Sheltering Tree, the Flagler Youth Orchestra, and so on.
Commissioner Dave Sullivan, who is a year older than Ericksen, spoke of it as “a good day, a happy day,”: but also struck a poignantly existential note: “We don’t want to go,” he said. And yet we do, we must.
Commissioner Donald O’Brien, who contrasted himself with Ericksen as an “introvert,” spoke of his former colleague’s kindness and mentorship, and Bob Updegrave, the former chairman of the Republican Executive Committee who’d helped Ericksen’s first campaigns, described him as a man who had “the courage to govern. So few today have the courage to do what he did.”
The final speaker on the program (a couple of others spoke, off script), was Rosemary Zattiero, who had been Ericksen’s companion in his last several years, and who spoke affectionately of what he’d meant to her, and how she met his family the first time. He’d asked her over to his house in Palm Coast’s E Section. He opened the door. There were two Dachshund: Molly and Gracie. His family.
Actually, he has three sons–Jon Charles Ericksen, Charles F. Ericksen III, and Robert S. Ericksen, the latter two present in the chamber that Tuesday–and enough grandchildren for a baseball team’s lineup. Robert (Robbie) Ericksen spoke, and gently pointed out that for all the lavish tributes about the irreproachable Charlie, “my dad was quite different than what he was in the home.” He noted Ericksen’s Army background, and how when Ericksen said jump, “you jumped.”
It was a modest way of bringing just a little touch of reality to the half-hour hagiography of the ceremony, perhaps a hint about how Ericksen had lost contact with one of his sons over the sort of family difficulties few large families are spared: that impish smile had its edge.
A slideshow Albanese put together illustrated the breadth of Ericksen’s local reach over the years, Linda Cole, the performer Ericksen loved so much, sang “Wind Beneath My Wings” (not without a good deal of license a few faith-haloed knots beyond Jeff Silbar’s and Larry Henley’s lyrics), and Fuller led the audience in a standing ovation: Charlie’s last. And the only one he ever got in that chamber.